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How do I lock out and tag out the bull?

Brad Nelson for Progressive Dairyman Published on 05 August 2016

Most of us are required to hold regular documented safety meetings. The idea is that when safety matters are discussed and there exists a functioning safety committee, property damage and injury accidents will go away. There is much we can do to improve the safety of our family members and employees.

Causes of emergency room visits (non-medical) can fall into three classes: impairment by alcohol or drugs, anger and the lack of understanding as to how mechanical things function. Anger may be an individual devil to conquer, but we can deal with the lack-of-understanding issue.



As we bring someone in to operate machinery, we need to assure them that the people who made the machine are not smarter than they are. All they need to do is take the time while you teach them how the machine works. That training should be documented. If it isn’t written down, the safety inspector will believe it never happened.

Same as the required monthly (in most places) safety meetings – if the individual has not signed the attendance sheet, legally, they were not at the meeting.

The idea behind required safety meetings is that in those meetings, over the course of a year, all aspects of workplace safety specific to your workplace will have been reviewed so that there are no accidents and, hence, no injuries.

Every person, employee or family member should have uncensored input into safety meetings. Anything on any part of the farm or dairy that poses a safety hazard should be brought to the attention of management and corrected. That includes a co-worker whose actions make working around him or her unsafe to others.

Safety meeting subject matter will vary with the machine or operation, especially when there have been injuries. Management needs to tailor the topics of safety meetings to their own operation. How injuries occur and how to prevent them should drive the subject matter.


In addition to site-specific issues, there are things that OSHA or your state equivalent will insist you cover. One of these is the lock-out, tag-out procedure.

When a machine is stopped for repair or service, there is the possibility that someone will come along and turn it on with the repair person inside. This is not good. When a machine is taken off-line, it should be tagged as being out of service, and a lock should be applied to its power source so that it is not possible to turn it on. The person inside the machine should be the only one with a key to the lock.

To verify that this procedure is being routinely followed, most states and OSHA require that a lock-out, tag-out log book be kept to document when any machine is locked and tagged out, by whom, and when it is returned to service and by whom. This log will show the safety inspector that you are following the rules.

Entering a non-locked and tagged-out machine “just for a second” can cost limbs and lives. Any perceived time lost to properly tag out and lock out a machine can be made up – and by the next day will be forgotten. There is no way to ever compensate or make up for a lost life or a disabling injury.

Stored energy in a safety discussion refers to machinery that is held up by hydraulic oil or other means that keep gravity from lowering it to a full “down” position. This is usually a required topic for safety.

Things that move up and down don’t always break in the down position. Before any disassembly of that machine, you and your employees need to make sure you understand what is holding that part of the machine up.


If you don’t, you run a very real risk of someone being crushed should the hydraulic hose be unfastened and the pressurized oil in that hose is what was holding the machine in place.

It’s easier to block it up or chain it up than it is to tell your employee’s wife why he won’t be coming home.

A dairy bull of any breed does not play well with others. Written and enforced procedures need to be in place for dealing with bulls that run with a pen of cattle. Never trust a bull and never allow employees to trust a bull.

Comes to mind the story of the inspector who demanded full access to a ranch. The rancher told him to stay out of a certain pasture. The inspector showed his badge and told the rancher that because of that badge, he could go anywhere.

Ten minutes later, the inspector was running as fast as he could with a bull in hot pursuit. The rancher yelled, “Show him your badge!”

Language skills have as much to do with dairy and farm safety as anything else. Be aware that in some cultures for a male to state that he does not understand something is the same as denying his own masculinity in public. This can be catastrophic.

Be aware that if some of your employees speak Spanish, that Spanish may be a second language for them. Their native tongue may be an obscure Indian dialect spoken in their home village, with the Spanish language still a challenge for them.

This means that even though you have someone give instructions in Spanish to another employee who appears to speak Spanish, the directive still can be misunderstood.

“Tiempo por escuela” or “time for schooling” should always be acceptable. It takes less time for someone to review or even show someone exactly what is wanted than it takes to undo a mistake.

Authorized personnel-only areas add to safety. Employees and family members have differing skills and levels of understanding. While most people can be taught to safely do most things, inexperienced and untrained helpers can cause serious injuries and catastrophic breakdowns. You don’t want just anybody to be changing out a breaker in a 480-volt electrical panel.

Get some background on your helpers. The more they understand and the more you can teach them, the fewer times you have to get up in the middle of the night to take care of a simple task.

As an employee gains experience and training, sign him or her off on some of the authorized personnel-only things that you have qualified them to do. It’s not limiting what people can do; it’s making sure they are safe for themselves and others when they do it.

Spend time in safety meetings about outside things. Your employees may never have had a father to fill them in on things like how a stop sign works. The first part is that you need to stop at a stop sign, whether or not visible opposing traffic is present, and then proceed to cross the intersection.

The second part is to note that if the other guy has the stop sign, you have the right-of-way – but only after the other guy yields it to you. It will be time well spent and far less hassle than not having your milkers show up to work because they were killed in an automobile crash.

Open up the discussion to electrical and fire safety issues in the housing of your employees. What may be old hat and boring to you may be brand-new information to them. They will be better employees because they will feel like you care about them and the safety of their families.  PD

Brad Nelson
  • Brad Nelson

  • Freelance Writer
  • Royal City, Washington